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Ask anyone about contacts, and you are bound to get a wide range of answers with the primary choices
being either running contacts or stopped two-on/two-off contacts.
needed to train limited their choices. The size of the dog also
influenced the style of contacts used. Handlers with bigger dogs
were split as to whether they thought stopped contacts were
safer, and most respondents with smaller dogs allowed running
contacts. Others believed it was much easier for the dog to understand the criteria of what the trainer wants.
Despite the concern for injury that so many respondents had for
the A-frame, only 7% had dogs diagnosed with an injury that
was directly related to the A-frame. However, many handlers
felt that their dog had an injury resulting from the A-frame,
with 6% indicating yes and 12% thinking the A-frame had probably caused an injury.
The most common reason expressed for not choosing running
contacts, even with the desire to do so, was the time and repetitions needed to complete the training.
We also asked what part of the A-frame might have contributed
to the injury. Interestingly the largest percentage that believed
their dog had an A-frame injury believe it was from hitting
the upside, despite the infrequency of attention to training it.
Twenty-four percent believed the injury was related from jumping from too high on the downside (classic leapers!) while 23%
thought the injury was from stopping too hard in two-on/twooff position. Fourteen percent felt the height of the A-frame
contributed to injury. Toe injuries from slats represented the
next most frequent response.
Choosing Running Contacts
Most people using running contacts do so because they are concerned about dogs being injured on the A-frame. Fifty-three percent felt it was a safer method, with 27% choosing running contacts to gain a faster time or a competitive edge. Ten percent felt
it was an easier behavior to train. Of other reasons used to train
running contacts, dog preference and fun was listed frequently.
If dogs are subject to strain and injury on the A-frame, the number of reps during practice does at least appear to need to be
limited. Access to equipment limited many of the respondents
to performing the A-frame three or fewer times per week, 43%
practiced the obstacle four to six times, with 14% working more
than seven times per week on the A-frame.
Where Is the Danger?
So, if the A-frame is a contributor to injury in dogs, what part
of the performance is causing the damage? Is it the height, the
slats, or as some have intimated, is it how the dog loads or jumps
onto the A-frame? If the impact on the upside is contributing to
injury, at least at this time, only 30% of handlers use some sort of
method to train the upside. Perhaps this should be an area of focus for instructors when training students for the safest method
of performing the A-frame.
Of those that focus on training the upside, 21% did so to hit the
required contact zone (only a requirement in USDAA), 34% did
so to aid in stride regulation, and 34% chose to do so to alter the
impact forces experienced by the dog. For those that did train
the upside, the most frequent answer was the line the dog took
to the obstacle or shaping their approach, versus where or how
hard the dog hit on the upside of the A-frame.
The most frequent locations of injuries due to A-frames were
believed to be shoulder, followed by wrist, back, toe, and neck.
Other Factors Contributing to Injury
We asked about beliefs in other factors contributing to injury
other than A-frames. Surface was the leading consideration
for injury, followed by tight turns and weaves. We also allowed
other answers, with lack of conditioning, lack of warm-up and
cool-down, and bad handling (hey we've all been there) listed
as primary causes of injury. Others pointed to dogs learning
obstacles too young and overtraining. Poor structure was also
a frequent answer, but how often is structure evaluated by handlers choosing dogs? Many handlers do not come from a conformation background, and the conformation ring may reward
different criteria than may be needed in the agility ring.
In all, agility competitors are concerned with the frequency of
injuries seen with our dogs, and they have a myriad of opinions
as to why these injuries are occurring. However, there is little research or objective studies available to suggest best practices for
training, for course design, for obstacle design, or optimal running surfaces. As a group of competitors, we should encourage
all of our organizations to look critically at our sport, and make
good decisions that optimize competition while preserving the
health of our dogs. Instructors should be encouraged to discuss
the risk of injury and be realistic with students while maintaining a fun, positive atmosphere. D
Dr. Kris Hiney is an equine extension specialist at Oklahoma State University and a complete agility addict. While her research background is in
equine exercise physiology, she and her colleagues at OSU believe that applying sound science can help provide answers to keep our dogs healthy.
She currently competes in agility with her Border Collie Avispa, and shares her passion with husband John who is running his first agility dog Torque.
Dr. Dianne McFarlane received her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from the University of California Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine. She is a diplomate of the
American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine, the Rick's Rapp Professor of Equine Research and a Regents Distinguished Research Award Winner. Dianne is
currently a professor in the department of Physiological Sciences at Oklahoma State University where she studies diseases of companion animal species, with a
special interest in aging and age-related diseases. She is an active participant in agility as well as other dog sports with her Bullmastiffs and Border Terrier. She and
her Bullmastiff, Natty have attended the AKC Agility Invitational multiple times.
Clean Run | August 19
Clean Run - August 2019
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Clean Run - August 2019
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